"For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. "
One of the saddest things to see or experience is when a person intentionally disconnects from the One who gives them life. This shows up first in a denial of gifting. I have known several young worshipers -- people for whom worship is more than just an activity -- who have placed other loves above their first love. The first "tell" that they're not where they were designed to be is that they stop singing. They (or I, and I'll get to this in a second) start off by saying something that sounds intellectual and oh-so-mature like, "I've moved beyond that."
What? You moved beyond breathing?
A quick look at the Greek of this sentence reveals it. Another way of wording the first clause is, "As the slave apart from the breath is dead..." This is a different word for "slave" than we're used to. A household servant was a "doulos." This is a person whose position in society made them subservient to those over them. They were alive completely apart from their master, they simply had no rights to do what they liked or go where they wanted. But a "soma" was nothing more than a machine. The car without an engine is just a body (soma); the computer without a hard drive is just a body (soma); a clock case without works is just a body (soma), and I can direct my doulos (slave) to install an engine, a hard drive, a clock works into the bodies of these slave devices. See?
I enjoy conducting choirs, but that's not my breath, it is not my spirit. I can walk away from conducting anytime I want and not feel much of a loss. But when I walked away from pastoring on a regular basis it had the effect of silencing my spirit. I didn't notice it at first. I could get something of the same feeling from going to worship and singing. Jama noticed long ago that when I was just "in" the congregation I always sang louder than everyone else -- like I was showing off. Compensating is more like it.
I was gifted to be a pastor and within that gifting God uses me in a few very specific ways: to lead others into worship, to preach the Word, to disciple and mentor others. When we Christians talk about "gifting" we might as well say "breathing". I intentionally shut Musicon down in May, 2006 because I saw that God was bringing that ministry to an end. But I was also mad at God (didn't know it) because he had brought it to an end. I breathed that ministry. It was natural to me. Doing it used all of my spiritual breath (gifts). The mistake I made was that I couldn't see beyond that one expression. So I repeatedly said "no" to other forms of ministry. I continued to mentor. But I was cynical toward the organized church. THEY weren't doing it like we did. But in the absence of the framework of worship and preaching my mentoring has been pretty wobbly. In retrospect I'd have to say it was because I just didn't want to move on. I couldn't conceive of life after Musicon. And it has taken me two years to come back in sync with where my breath lies. You can say that "works" don't save us, and academically and theologically you'd be right. But God has wired us to breathe. He has hard-wired our bodies (soma) for spirit (pneuma)! Without that breath our body is only a shell.
Have you ever been thrown into a pond or pool and didn't have time to take a proper breath? I once voluntarily got onto a "water slide" (diabolus machinae, if you ask me). It was basically a drain pipe the evil masterminds at "Action Park" had put up on a hill about half a mile away from where it was going to dump you out. It looked innocent enough to me. The thing I wasn't prepared for was that it "dumped" you about 20 feet above the water. Not being a swimmer of much skill, when I hit the water it totally took my breath away. I became disoriented and tried to breathe under water. Not a great idea. On instinct I shot straight up for what seemed like an eternity. When my head finally cleared waterline I was gasping, choking, sputtering... but I was breathing. Glorious, sweet, clear, AIR.
These past months I've been more and more aware of a suffocating feeling gathering around me. I've been under water trying to breathe. God has been building in me a desire -- no! A desperation for the sweet air of his spirit. I'm coming to believe that he has been saving this little church in New Hampshire for me. And I expect that the sign from God that this is the next move in ministry for Jama and me will be that I won't just go willingly or obediently. For God has cleared out all the cynicism and pride that twenty-five years in "para-church" ministry had left me. And while I know that no place is perfect and there will be challenges galore leading this new church, I expect the sign of His call to me will be the feeling of breathing glorious, sweet, clear, AIR.
Pastoral Relief and Retreat
- Wethersfield, CT, United States
- I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.